The article first appeared on The Verge.
It sometimes seems like technology is at odds with the art world — a tension between brain and heart. But plenty of artists, from Da Vinci to Cory Arcangel, have proved that’s not true, and continue to prove it as technology evolves. In Technographica, we explore how contemporary artists are using technology in unusual and unexpected ways.
"I’m standing in a massive warehouse studio in New York City, wearing a grey jumpsuit that’s randomly vibrating as I walk around. Sometimes, nothing happens, and the outfit just feels like an extra-thick space uniform that slightly restricts my range of motion. But every now and then, small buzzers near my shoulder blades and back will hop around against my skin. The jumpsuit, called Ceres, is connected to NASA’s Near Earth Object API, and those vibrations I’m feeling are indications of asteroids near Earth’s orbit."
The suit is just a prototype, but the creators eventually want anyone to be able to wear it anywhere. It was created by Wearable Media, a fashion tech studio based in New York City. Wearable Media’s founders, Yuchen Zhang, Jingwen Zhu, and Hellyn Teng, want to change how we interact with our clothes, and by extension, the world.
Wearable Media is filling a gap in the wearable industry, and it’s not just an aesthetic one. Their work pushes against popular ideas about what wearables are supposed to do. Where other wearable companies measure and track our bodies, Wearable Media wants to use our bodies to track the world.
“A lot of our concepts are coming from the idea of ‘How do we build awareness with our environment?’” Teng says. “How can we bring the imperceptible to the physical in garments?”
Zhang, the CEO; Zhu, the CTO; and Teng, the creative director, have been making clothes together since 2016, but Wearable Media didn’t officially launch until April 2017, when they were accepted by the New Museum’s New Inc. incubator project, which gave them the studio space, creative tools, and workshops they needed to expand.
Now, Wearable Media has three main prototypes, which range from physically interactive to more traditional design: Ceres, the buzzing asteroid jumpsuit; Audrey, a neoprene, Instagram-connected shirt that uses augmented reality to reveal a wearer’s “aura”; and Project Reefstone, a flowy, loose-fitting vest that’s supposed to resemble a bleached coral reef and was designed using climate science data.
Compared to other wearables like Toshiba’s AR smart glasses or any of the dozens of fitness trackers available, Wearable Media’s prototypes are a fashion-first — or at least a fashion-simultaneously — enterprise. Each piece looks like something you might see in a high-end or slightly experimental clothing line. “A lot of times when people want to utilize technology for wearables, they focus on technology,” Zhu says. “But we want to bring the beauty of technology into fashion.”They take design inspiration from runway shows, and their use of materials, like neoprene, follow recent trends in the fashion world. For Wearable Media, wearables aren’t just about tracking our bodies, but determining how our bodies look when they’re interacting with our environment. “We want to impact people on a psychological, emotional level with our designs, not just telling people how many steps they walked,” Zhang says.
The Ceres jumpsuit definitely had a psychological impact on me. I don’t think about asteroids on a daily basis, but in the jumpsuit, I have no choice but to be aware of objects hurtling around near Earth on a minute-to-minute basis. “Ceres is basically an exploration of turning our human form into a celestial-sensing body,” Teng says. “Space in many ways seems imperceptible to us. So we wanted to think of a way to bring the story onto our bodies and know that we live in a greater cosmos.”
Read more on The Verge.